It’s Party Time!

Bicentennial characters
to bring Madison’s history to life

200 hours of events will keep community busy

By Konnie McCollum
Staff Writer

Madison Bicentennial Logo

(June 2009) – If you’ve been out and about in Madison, Ind., recently, you’ve probably noticed the odd assortment of historic-looking characters strolling around. While they didn’t step out of a time machine, they are a blast from the community’s past.
The 22 re-enactors are the Madison Bicentennial characters, a group of local residents who portray just a fraction of the noteworthy people throughout Madison’s 200-year history.
Susan Brewer, a Madison Bicentennial Celebration Committee volunteer, said the historic characters help tie the past to the present in a unique way by literally bringing history to life.

Madison Bicentennial Characters

Photo by Kathy Chandler

Several Madison residents will be portraying famous people of the past during the upcoming Madison Bicentennial celebration, June 6-14. Some of the re-enactors appeared at a recent Art Jam event and posed for this photo. They are (from left) Joyce Randles (as teacher Lydia Middleton), Connie Partington (as poet Sarah Bolton), Sandie Gooden (as Helen Spry), Ashley Roberts (as the fictional Betty Roberts), Stephanie Hellman (in front as Delia Webster), Emily Roberts (as Sadie Lankford), Bryce Worrell (as Lt. Col. Alois Bachman), Brianna Worrell (as Harriet McGlasson), Brandilyn Worrell (in the gray pinafore as Lillian Williams), Margo Watkins (in the red dress as actress Irene Dunne) Wayne Engle (as newspaper publisher Michael Garber), Jan Vetrhus (as Charlotte Sullivan), Bob Fourhman (as Ohio Gov. John Brough), Betsey Vonderheide (as Drusilla Lanier Cravens) and Bill Demaree (as Gen. Walter Krueger).

“Historic houses and museums only do so much,” said Brewer, who helped organize all of the characters and their costumes. “Live people who walk and talk have much more impact; you will remember them better because communication makes a more lasting impression.”
Brewer, who moved to Madison a year ago and works at The Birdhouse retail shop on Main Street, believes the historical representations of important people in Madison’s history also let young people in the community know that Madison had an impact on the world.
Among the re-enactors are people who played vital roles in the nation’s Underground Railroad movement to free slaves, a Hollywood movie star, an educator, a governor and a soldier.
“We have a little bit of everybody. Our representation cuts across all levels,” she said. “We want our young people to understand that just because you are from a small town doesn’t mean you can’t make a contribution to the world.”
Madison Bicentennial Celebration Committee chairwoman Jan Vetrhus happens to be one of the Bicentennial characters, Charlotte Sullivan, the daughter of Judge Jeremiah Sullivan. Vetrhus had several reasons why she chose her character. “I’ve been a docent for years at the historic Sullivan house, and I lived in Albuquerque, N.M., growing up, which is a place where she also lived for awhile,” she said. “I am just fascinated with her life.”
She said research took her about a year to complete, and she got much help from fellow history buff Gertrude Geraets. For Vetrhus, portraying Sullivan has been a “wonderful foray into the world of make believe.”
She, along with former Madison Mayor Al Huntington and Betsey Vonderheide, the former city special projects coordinator for his administration, began planning the Madison Bicentennial in 2007.
“A Bicentennial Celebration is a monumental mark for a community” said Vetrhus. “I knew we needed to do something special for our community because such a thing only happens once.”
Vetrhus said she had the privilege of being in Long Island, N.Y., during America’s Bicentennial in 1976. “Being in an old community and getting to participate was simply unforgettable,” she said. “I wanted people here to have the same experience.”
Although the planning was tough, the many volunteers that have helped have been wonderful, she said.
“We want young people to be excited about our community,” she said. “This is one way to give them a chance to feel included and have some fun.” She also said the Madison Bicentennial Celebration is a great way to show off the town and what it offers.
“We want people to walk the riverfront, shop downtown and on the hilltop, hike in the park, and just get to know Madison,” she said. Organizers have no idea how many people will come to the city for the event, but are “hopeful” there will be big crowds.
“There is an old saying that if nobody came to New Orleans, there would still be a Mardi Gras. Well, if no one else shows up here, then we will still have a spectacular birthday bash just for us,” she said.
The Bicentennial characters have already made several appearances and presentations throughout town, including schools and other facilities, as well as in informal settings such as the May Art Jam in downtown Madison.
“Because so many people in Madison are close to its history, the captive audiences, particularly schoolchildren, seem to really love the characters,” said Brewer.
Throughout the June 6-14 “200-Hour Party” of the Madison Bicentennial Celebration, characters will appear at a variety of places. Several of them will give presentations at the Bicentennial’s week-long Old-Fashioned Chautauqua Tent, located at the Broadway Fountain.
In days past, the Chautauqua Circuit Tents provided speakers and performers a chance to contribute to the community’s cultural life for a few days each summer. For the “200-hour Party,” a variety of demonstrators and speakers will make presentations. Book authors, a belly dancer, Tae Kwon Do demonstrators, a Chinese dancer, historians, fitness trainers, artists and others are among the people who will perform during the Bicentennial Old-Fashioned Chautauqua Tent.
The characters will also be present at the Community Picnic during the “200-hour Party Parks Day” on Tuesday, June 9. From 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., visitors are invited to Clifty Falls State Park for an all-community picnic. People are encouraged to bring lawn chairs and picnic foods. The Bicentennial Band and Soundz of Dixieland will provide musical entertainment. The gathering point in the park will be the North Lawn, near the State Road Hwy 62 park entrance. There is free admission to the park all that day.
After the “200-hour Party,” the Bicentennial Celebration will continue with events throughout the year. In October, Bicentennial Characters will be on the Historic Railroad Excursion Train. During the event, passengers will meet at the Venture Out Business Center for a two-hour ride to Middle Fork Bridge and Back. The ride will feature souvenir tickets and handbills and costumed re-enactors. The Jefferson County Historical Society and the Madison Railroad worked together for more than a year to plan this ‘historical learning experience.”
“We have secrets and surprises also planned,” said Georgie Kelly, one of the event’s organizers. “People are going to simply love this adventure.”
Tickets for five excursions on Oct. 17-18 will be available June 1 at the Jefferson County Historical Society Heritage Center, 615 W. First St. The cost will be $20, but seating is limited to 48 people in the passenger car and 20 riders in the caboose. The ride is not handicapped accessible and there are no restrooms on the train.
Brewer is hoping to be one of the costumed conductors for the excursion.
Brewer said each of the Bicentennial characters did their own research, including the five home-schooled children who are also portraying Madisonians. “The volunteers all did a great job. Many have worked for more than a year on their research, and I simply can’t thank them enough, she said.
Joyce Randles, of Hanover, Ind., is Lydia Middleton, an early Madison education who later had a downtown school named after her. She became fascinated with the teacher as she did her research for her character.
“The fact that she was an old maid school teacher who truly loved to teacher and dedicated her live to others’ children is just inspiring,” she said. “Her moral character and her devotion to her work are qualities that would make her a great role model today.”
Betsey Vonderheide, who now works for Southeast Indiana Solid Waste District, plays Drusilla Lanier Cravens. She had an opportunity to gather her research on Cravens in a unique way. “I actually knew her,” she said. “I was a child and she was really old.” Vonderheide found her interesting and thought it would be fun to portray her.
Bob Fourhman, who portrays Madison Railroad’s John Brough, has been doing research and presentations on his character for six years. Clifty Falls State Park naturalist Dick Davis had asked Fourhman to do historical interpretations for visitors at the park.
In the park, Brough’s Folly, as it came to be known, was intended to replace the Madison Railroad’s steep incline.
As president of Madison and Indianapolis Railroad, “Rough John Brough” as he was called, began to notch out the east face of Clifty Canyon, tunneling through the canyon wall twice, and bridging Hoffman Branch. The job involved 700 men cost $300,000. The project went bankrupt and was never completed. The bridge abutments are still there, as is one of the tunnels.
“I have had so much fun doing this,” said Fourhman. His character portrayal of Brough includes the period when he was governor of Ohio from 1864-1865. “That way, I can really bring his full character to life,” he said.
Brewer said, “When people see one of the characters at the Bicentennial events, we want them to engage them and talk to them. They will be pleasantly surprised at what they might learn, and they will have fun in the process.”

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